scandinavian adventure // finland
this final and much-anticipated week of our trip is hard to put into words. bare with me as i do my best. i have been staring for far too long at this computer screen. hopefully if i just start typing the words will gradually begin to flow from my heart to my mind to my fingertips... hopefully. you know how from time to time - especially in times of great difficulty - you try to picture yourself in the new world? maybe even humming to yourself - "just see yourself... just see me too... just see us all in a world that is new..." - to evoke the peaceful mental images? i have been doing a lot of that lately. however, recently for one full week we didn't have to meditate to bring these pictures to mind, they were reality - right in front of our very eyes. sure there was still pain and suffering around us but for that one week in helsinki our brothers and sisters created the closest version of paradise we can experience in todays world. and for that we will always be grateful. we had a glimpse into the future. how cool is that? "american," "finnish," "swedish," "russian," and many more gathered together in unity and in love. one experience i remember was walking with a russian sister along a tree-lined pathway, i said something and she just smiled. realizing she spoke as much english as i spoke russian i starting singing a kingdom song. her eyes lit up as she began to sing along with me. turns out we spoke the same language after all. we experienced this again and again throughout the week. i have known for many years now that nothing is like being in the truth - nowhere else can you find it. but this week solidified this fact in my heart : the truth is absolutely priceless and our brotherhood is the most precious gift from jehovah. finland is beautiful - the land of lakes - there is water and green everywhere, even just outside helsinki. helsinki itself is a clean, laid back city with a modern edge. we loved being there. but hands-down the most beautiful part of finland will forever be our friends there. we love you all - please come see us in california!
^ our service day ^ we were assigned to work with a pioneer couple around our age. we were given an invitation presentation in finnish and the congregation provided a wonderful lunch and program for the delegates! the night before we attended the touching "evening program" where there was not a dry eye in the audience. bethel reserved the savoy theater in downtown helsinki for four nights. local brothers and sisters for over a year tirelessly worked on this production - planning, organizing and practicing to execute orchestral music, children and adult chorus music, live local finnish folk music, a ballet, interviews and a full-length drama featuring the history of the truth in finland. afterward we enjoyed time together with light refreshments. one of the most incredible nights of our lives in the truth. 
^ finnish branch tour ^ bethel hosted four hour tours for all the delegates the week of the convention. we appreciate their hard work in going above and beyond with every special detail, including stations set up in every department to explain the work there as well as a delicious meal and live music.
^ our wilderness tour ^ this is a big deal by the way because fins LOVE their sauna. there are more saunas in finland than cars. and on this day we were able to see why they love it so much. we hiked in the forest with our guides leading the way - stumbling across little special treats around each corner - such as sisters singing kingdom songs a cappella, homemade reindeer soup to be enjoyed around a campfire, and cloudberry liquor tasting. after our hike we went to a wilderness center to learn about finlands wildlife then to a large open area for a meal and activities as we waited for our turn to use the sauna. at the sauna we went in the ice cold lake first, then sauna, lake, sauna... repeat. such a blast!
^ our convention site ^ convention take two! even better the second time around! we had five languages : finnish, swedish, russian, english and finnish sign language. perfect three days.
^ esplanade park ^ being together all day for three days wasn't enough so we gathered at the downtown park to mix, mingle and of course... sing more kingdom songs. different languages groups singing in unison the same words with the same melody brought tears to the eyes of all and turned the heads of passerby. being with our russian brothers was such a highlight - seeing their strength, faith, courage and integrity will be something we will never forget.
^ the medieval town of porvoo ^ our last tour was of this quaint town. our guides took us on a walking tour to see all of the sites and then we went on a cruise through the archipelago en route back to helsinki. on the cruise we had a buffet with local seafood and a band to play live music. 

so thats it for our time in paradise... this post doesn't and truly can't do justice to the events of the week. we eagerly await the day when we will not have to find a quiet place to imagine the new world... when we will never have to say goodbye to it. we can't wait for the time when jehovahs promises are fulfilled in entirety and we will all have this week repeated on a grand scale, forever.

scandinavian adventure // sailing the baltic
from iceland we flew to helsinki to meet up with my parents. thankfully we had a little down time for much needed study, tv-watching and laundry. once my parents arrived from california we made our way to the harbor to begin our baltic expedition. we boarded the princess anatasia (check out st peter line for details) and explored our home for the next four nights. st peter line is a russian ferry line that transports people and cargo throughout the baltic area. we sailed helsinki - helsinki roundtrip with stops in stockholm, tallinn and st. petersburg. our room was teeny-teeny-tiny with twin beds, a teeny-tinier bathroom (but at least it was ours!) and no window. eeeek. on the bright side, there was an information area, duty free shop, and of course restaurants & bars. the price was absolutely unbeatable (at first we though it was a joke) and as long as we didn't think of anastasia as a cruise ship we were golden. i would recommend st. peter line to anyone on a budget (and up for an adventure).
first stop and favorite stop : stockholm, sweden. i could have zigzagged through gamla stan's quaint alleyways for days. we took our time exploring the city and even stopped for fika at this cute place. cardamom cake = life. learn more about fika here. after more meanderings, photo shoots, bakery stops and window-shopping we had the best beer of our trip here. GO THERE if you are in stockholm. highly recommend. the highlight of the day was our anniversary dinner gifted by my parents which consisted of traditional swedish meatballs. AMAZING. complete with boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam. many thanks to mom & dad for the most delicious meal of the trip. 
next stop : tallinn, estonia. our weather was wet and windy but nothing a pint of must nunn couldn't cure. we wandered lower town, wandered upper town (for red rooftop views) and then... wandered some more. the cramped and crooked medieval streets were very storybook / fairytale -esque, especially in the rain. we stopped to dry off and eat some giant savory crepes at this local haunt in between all the wanderings. wandering works up an appetite. ;)

last stop : st. petersburg, russia. after waiting in some long immigration lines we were bused to st. isaacs square. my main goals for the day? the state hermitage museum and CAVIAR. both were realized, both magnificent. the hermitage's leading structure - the winter palace - steals the show but the museum also houses an enviable collection of dutch art which happens to be my absolute favorite. we needed days but only had hours so we moved quickly through the corridors soaking in as much culture as possible. from there we hit the streets - the main drag of nevsky prospect - for souvenir shopping and our fanciest meal of the trip. (the waiter wore white gloves... need i say more!?) my dining experience included a delicious fish entree (pictured below) and of course my beloved caviar  (pictured on instagram) with a splash of ice cold vodka on the side. all in all russia was a huge success. some of the most amazing memories seem to be made in the utterly foreign places that push us completely out of our element. russia was just that. the next day though brought a change of pace. it brought a week of comfort and familiarity yet excitement and unexpected surprises. one of the best weeks of our lives. final part of our scandinavian adventure to be cont.

scandinavian adventure // iceland (part two)
our next days route was from vik to höfn. the black sand beach, reynisfjara, in vik was right across from our airbnb. along with the basalt columns there are a variety of seabirds nesting in the grassy cliffs - including the puffin. over half of the worlds population of puffin come to iceland to breed during the summer months. it was freezing and windy and we couldn't get a good photo of them but *soaring excitement levels* nonetheless. the following stops were : vatnajökullfjallsárlónjökulsárlón (#glaciersarecool #nopunintended) and the hoffell hot pots (i HIGHLY recommend these - they are just west of höfn and not far off ring road). we arrived in höfn for the night which we came to find out is the langoustine capital of the world - sooooo langoustine pizza! yes please!
our early start to day five began with spotting a herd of reindeer (minor freak - out moment) while they were feeding on a hillside just off the road. after a blurry photo shoot (due to our shameful lack of a zoom lens) we continued our journey up the coast through the eastern fjords where we stumbled upon a lakeside northern shoveller nesting ground (photo of their intricate fuzzy nest below) and through snowy mountains where we stopped off to drink glacial water from a stream. the highland stretch was so desolate (with no cell service) that i was admittedly relieved each few and far between time that we saw another car pass by. other humans! we wound down to the town of egilsstadir for a much needed rest. soon we were back to the road again up to our home away from home for the night. northern iceland was unlike anything we had seen thus far. 

our day six in the north was a day with no driving. yay for daniel! we spent the whole day in the sunshine-filled lake mývatn area whose clear blue skies and bright green rolling hills conjured images of the south of france rather than iceland. the geothermal and seismic activity in this area is intense. the landscapes vary from barren and desert-like to cultivated grassy pastures to areas where the earth had shook so violently that it was torn apart. steam and the smell of sulfur wafts through the air. this natural phenomena has been harnessed to create nature baths where we spent most of our day soaking, sun-bathing and unwinding. we even got sunburned! (i would love a sticker that says "i got sunburned in iceland" but alas never saw one. side business?? maybe one day.) digressions aside though - it was perfect, not crowded or very touristy. for a comparison to the blue lagoon click here. the drive from there to akureyri (the northern capital) was stunning - including the spectacular goðafoss. other sights to see in the area are : krafla cratermud pots and dettifoss.
 from our hostel in akureyri we drove southward over four hours toward reykjavik. the sun was gleaming and there wasn't a cloud in sight. the road trip south was an easy ride including ice cream pit stops with scenes of little cottages and horses galloping in the fields. daniel pulled over a few times for me to get yet more photos and videos of horses and colts to add to my growing collection *grin emoji* - he was such a good sport. we reached reykjavik and our expedition came full circle when we met some friends at kex where our trip began. we spent our remaining hours strolling through the city's sunny night, watching ecstatic football fans cheer over icelands victorious game that day. our red-eye flight from keflavik to helsinki followed at 1am. that meant goodbye (for now) to iceland. day and night my mind still drifts to this unearthly land. musings of its singular beauty and our adventures here will stay with me forever. 

scandinavian adventure // iceland (part one)
i kept repeating it... again and again : 
"this is a dreamland. i am in a dream. can this be real life?" 
even now i can't wrap my mind around it. it seems more a magical, mystical, unreal place. a place that could exist only in imagination. i could hardly sleep for the six nights we were there. just that light sleep that is more a blurry awakeness. in my conscious and unconscious states thoughts of this place danced in my head. they consumed me and i was unable to silence them. daniel joked that i was overstimulated, like a baby thats been entertained for far too long. and he was right. from the moment our plane touched icelandic soil and i caught my first glimpse of the lupine lining the tarmac i was enamored. we hit the ground running fast and we didn't stop for seven days. the story to follow is the day-by-day tale of my love affair with iceland.
first stop : reykjavik for two nights. we stayed at kex hostel which is awesome. it is probably too hip for us but oh well ;) the room was perfect - clean with a view of the water and mountains behind. the breakfast costs extra but is delicious and fuels you for the long day ahead. plus skyr has my heart. i could write a whole blog post about skyr alone ... but lets save that for another day. kex bar and common area are great - very relaxed vibes. plus there was live music which added so much to our stay. we wandered the city on day one, did some shopping and bought a mug that says i don't speak icelandic (in icelandic) then ate at this great place. from reykjavik on our day two we did the "golden circle". the landscapes on this route are other-worldly and ever-changing. were we on mars? the moon? we weren't certain. the highlights of the golden circle are Þingvellir national parkgeyser and gullfoss.  
from reykjavik we set off eastward on ring road toward vik. south iceland is incredible. every few minutes i would squeal with glee - "look! a waterfall!" (eventually daniel said perhaps we should point out when there is NOT a waterfall as that would be more out of the ordinary.) in addition to waterfall announcements we took turns pointing out lambs. white lamb! black lamb! spotted lamb! ... you get the idea. mama and lambs - usually two lambs per mama - along with wildflowers dotted the vibrant green pastures. they were often in the roads taking their time to cross, never in a rush. we adored watching them play and nurse, little tails wagging at high speed. and extra thanks to the these sheep for we soon made our way to a local woolen mill for a few precious wool treasures. the stretch between reykjavik and vik boasts an uncountable amount of breathtaking sights. pictured below were some of our favorites : seljalandsfossseljavallalaug pooleyjafjallajökull, and skógafoss.

oh and the endless lupine fields... miles on miles on miles in the black volcanic sand. 
for the story on lupine in iceland click here.

our iceland story days three through seven to be cont.
in the meantime click here to read up on our favorite part of icelandic culture ;)

pacific coastal cruise // vancouver
this may marks our ten year anniversary -- a whole decade!! in celebration we took a trip -- just the two of us. part anniversary gift from our family & part anniversary gift from ourselves, we sailed out of LA to vancouver via san francisco & victoria. it was so restful to be at sea, where miles upon miles of blue ocean meet sky. how could staring at the same scene for hours never get old? we read & relaxed (even napped) on the ship while we made our way to san francisco. we only had the day so we decided to do something new this time around. we headed to an area called bernal heights for lunch at a great place then hiked up its high hill / dog park (what used to be a quarry) for amazing city views pictured below. 
after another day at sea we made it to british columbia. we were in victoria which is on the southern end of vancouver island. off we went to breathtaking butchart gardens to gaze in awe at tulips galore. oh tulip season! who knew there is such a variety of just ONE kind of flower!?

we arrived in vancouver the next morning and parted ways with our ship and our beautiful balcony (whom i had developed quite the bond with), rented our car and decided to check out granville island which we highly recommend. the granville island public market is teeming with activity and excitement not to mention delicious eats. i got a lox bagel of course and we sat outside on the marinas edge watching the hustle & bustle of the city. i knew at that point that vancouver was going to be one of my all-time favorite cities. it reminded us of home; so many similarities to san diego only even better weather -- in our opinion as rain lovers that is ;)
from there we drove to north vancouver to our home away from home for the next three nights. it was in the most picturesque spot we had ever seen. the area is called deep cove and being there is like being in a novel. i felt as if i had been there hundreds of times before but only in my imagination.
our airbnb could not have been more perfect. it was bright and clean with large windows boasting a view of the water just across the road. it included kayaks that we used to go paddling on the indian arm early one morning. other adventures included driving the sea & sky highway to whistler for the day. we took the gondola up to the top of the mountain for views unlike anything we have experienced. never have i felt so small! the day was sunny and clear. on the mountain there was just enough briskness in the air for a scarf and much snow -- which lent itself to spring skiing and boarding, but at the base of the mountain people were cycling, hiking and shedding their layers for shorts and t-shirts. wide open spaces and stunning landscapes put whistler blackcomb on our "must return" list.
more explorations in north vancouver were lynn canyon's suspension bridge & thirty foot pool and hiking to quarry rock for views of deep cove and downtown vancouver cityscape.

we left vancouver with heavy hearts so for a pick-me-up / send off we went here for the best ice cream EVER. farewell for now vancouver, many thanks to you for making our celebration of ten years together a memorable one.

europe adventure // paris 
these parisian rooftops blend with the heavy gray skies to frame the most iconic landmark of all time -- and made me fall in love with paris all over again. 

when i was seventeen i came to paris for one day. from the observation deck of the eiffel tower to impressionist art as far as the eye can see at the musee de orsay, we fit in as much as we could. 
this time though, in celebration of our anniversary, I was determined to slow down the pace and enjoy -- maybe even sit on a sidewalk with a cappuccino or glass of champagne and watch the world go by. people watching in paris is by far the best. from the fashion forward to those laden with eccentricity, there is much to soak in. so we strolled and ambled our way through the city, admiring every detail. 

on our first night we made it to our airbnb apartment and after a bit of a fiasco -- our luggage got stuck in the worlds teeniest-tiniest lift -- we settled in. we were in the latin quarter on the sixth floor. the apartment was a small studio -- but oh the view! plus it utilized its space quite well. our hosts were very helpful and gave us all kinds of tips. first off we were very ready to eat dinner so we went to a recommended bistro across the street. we had baguettes, wine and four courses including pumpkin soup, foie gras (which daniel ate -- miraculous! paris is magic), beef and vegetable dish followed by sea scallops. lastly we had a trilogy of desserts including creme brulet. life: complete. now, although our lives were complete our wallets were empty, so -- with the exception of a glass of champagne and the most expensive yet decadent macaroons at laduree -- we ate crepes from street vendors for the rest of the trip. fine by me. ;)

on our first day we went to the louvre. we spent six hours there but we needed six days. and even then we would not have done it justice. this museum! its a work of art housing works of art. there are no words to explain how massive it is. HUGE. we bought those headset thingys which i never do but it was definitely worthwhile as all the plaques were in french. we started in the history of the louvre section which led us into the medieval louvre. the louvre started out in the 1100s as a fortress then it became a palace and then a museum. some of the original fortress has been unearthed and preserved. 
from there we went to the moabite stone, which is the artifact that we both wanted to see the most and the highlight of the day. then onto paintings, including the mona lisa of course.

the following days included much walking, climbing the spiral staircase to the top of the arc de triomphe, pushing through the crowds on the champs-elysées, riding to the observation deck of the tour eiffel, wandering the beautiful jardin du luxembourgmontmartre for the views, and meandering around the seine. that river is my favorite of all time. i love that it splits the city in two, that its lined with stalls selling old used books and postcards, that sometimes its blue/green and sometimes its gray,  and that it seems to have given a patinaed finish to its bridges and lampposts. 

so goes the story of my love affair with paris and so ends our europe trip. we flew home from paris to san diego via london & los angeles. its always bittersweet, isnt it?
heres to planning the next adventure...

bruges by day // bruges by night

europe adventure // bruges

stepping into the heart of bruges was like stepping back in time. these red rooftops combined with thick fog, swans swimming in the mirror-like canals, and bells chiming throughout the city made bruges the most enchanting place we have ever been. preserved cobblestone streets wind their way through the medieval city centre leading to quaint, picturesque scenes at every turn. 

after we checked into our cute little room with a view we just meandered through the town, stopping to take a photo here, stopping to buy a waffle from a street vendor there. hoping for a couple of calm days, there were only a few things on our to-do list: canal tour by boat, buy chocolate (best chocolate of my LIFE), eat mussels & frites (popular belgian meal -- sans mussels for daniel of course), drink delicious beer and tour the de halve man brewery, and climb the beautiful belfry tower for stunning views -- 366 cramped steps through a very old spiral staircase to reach the bells at the top -- click on the link to check it out. 

we saw all we wanted to see and then filled the rest of our time with what i wanted to do most of all -- wandering the city, drinking in all its sights. belgium, you were magical -- all we imagined and more.

europe adventure // amsterdam
"its a world of laughter a world of fear, its a world of hopes and a world of tears...
its a world that we share and its time we're aware its a small world after all..."

in my head. on repeat. i suppose you can take the california girl out of the magic kingdom but you can't take the magic kingdom out of the girl. this fact aside, holland was like a dream. of course the bells, lights, canals, bridges (and clogs) reminded me of what i had only ever experienced as make-believe. it reminded me of disneyland -- only, this place was real. this is the place that disneyland is trying to transport you to. and here we were.

after separating from my parents we landed in amsterdam on a wet sunday night. the rain wasn't too light, it wasn't too heavy. it fell from the black sky softly on the quiet cobblestone streets. it returned to the still canals whose warmly lit reflections were disturbed ever so slightly, transforming their usually clear pictures to impressionist works of art. we walked in the rain that night, listening to the bells chime their music-box-like songs and watching the lights of the bridges flicker over the water.

morning came fast and we set off in exploration. from our hotel to the train station and then walked to dam square. from dam square we walked to bloemenmarkt, the worlds only floating flower market! we bought tulips to share and to plant some of our own. our wedding flowers were orange tulips, they are scheduled to bloom (if i don't kill them first... ) this spring, around our ten year anniversary. we did a lot more walking from the flower market to museumplein. museumplein means museum square and is, as the name would indicate, where all the museums reside. we scoped it out but decided to return later. from there we walked SOME MORE to this craft brewery and vowed to not walk anymore... at least until we had to leave. the beer (plus cheese & sausage) was the best of the trip.

the next day we opted to join the rest of the amsterdammers in their mode of transport -- the bicycle. bicycles were everywhere. they ruled the rodes the way the cars rule the 5 freeway in LA. they were rounding corners, jingling their bells, locked up on bridges, fences, and poles. so we figured if you can't beat them -- join them. best decision ever. what fun we had! i was worried that i was going to get hit by a car at first; or worse yet, slow down a dutchman on his way to work while he zoomed around me cursing tourism. thankfully i can report neither of those things happened! (i hope). we rode through the charming, neighborhoody area of jordaan, rented a paddleboat and paddled around the canals for an hour. it was a blast to get another view of the city whilst working off some of the gouda from the day prior. from the canals we rode to the rijksmuseum for vermeer & rembrandt. they were wonderful. the museum itself is such a beauty. (see IG for a photo of the building). it boasts a bicycle path through its center so you can see through the glass windows into the museum on either side as you peddle along to the sounds of violists playing vigorously in efforts to earn a few euro. after a slice of marzipan cake, glass of rose and obligatory jaunt through the gift shop we returned our bicycles and went out for a proper dutch dinner -- more meat and more cheese. fine by me. ;)

we departed from amsterdam for an early morning train to belgium by way of rotterdam. next stop: bruges.

"Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view... They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!"
-- Pride & Prejudice

europe adventure // english countryside
this storybook-like town is bridgnorth. idyllic and unassuming this little town stole our hearts. it isn't  bridgnorth's charm alone that makes such an impression but it is the people who reside therein. they are the family of our best friends and we have gotten very close over the years despite the distance. they took us in and treated us like family. many thanks to them!

after leaving london we passed through oxford for sausage & mash and drank a pint at their oldest pub called "the bear," dating back to the year 1242, before our arrival in bridgnorth.

our first day we all went to the chatsworth house in derbyshire county. this immense estate was used as pemberley in the film pride and prejudice. it was like a dream. sheep dotted the land all around the house. the hedge mazes were the perfect place to get lost and daydream that you're elizabeth bennett... not that i did that of course. perhaps pemberly deserves its own post??

the next day we toured the town of ironbridge which was the home of the industrial revolution. we had the best pasties there... then a cream tea... thankfully we were also doing a lot of walking! after ironbridge we went home to bridgnorth and took the cliff railway up from low town to high town for the above view of the river severn. we saw the ruins of bridgnorth's castle and went thrifting on their main street. we had our meeting that night, then off to a proper english pub (translation: it was very, very old having the original door with the mark of the black plague -- really cool, also a tad creepy) called the halfway house for an ale named "shropshire lad," which was appropriate as we were in shropshire county!

the following day we were off to wales to a waterfall called pistyll rhaeadr. it was wet, windy and oh-so-very-cold which was perfect as that is exactly how one imagines wales to be! gnarly sheep, shetland ponies, mossy fences and RAIN. friday night we went to a mustache themed party (it was "movember" after all) for some fun times and delicious food.

saturday was our last full day *tears* and we went to ludlow castle which dates back to 1086. what an amazing time meandering its corridors and the view from the top was breathtaking. it was a clear, crisp day with children playing rugby in the shadow of the castle and i thought to myself at that moment: this is something i can never experience at home... and i was happy.
one last meal of indian food that night with all the family and we said our goodbyes...

thanks to all for a wonderful time making memories. until next time thoughts of hot english tea and cozy fires will keep us warm at night. (to be honest... it was ace.) we love & miss you all!

we were off to heathrow for our flights and sadly parted ways with my dad and mom...
we were on our own!

europe adventure // london
this view of elizabeth tower peaking out of the trees of st. james park is my absolute favorite view of my most favorite landmark. this was my fourth time visiting the UK and i still jumped up and down with glee at the moment i took this photo, the first moment i saw him on this time around -- it never gets old. i truly believe that even if i was a londoner (for real not just at heart) i would still catch my breath each time i heard those ever-constant sounds of big ben ringing through the city.

i have been dreaming of going to london with my family for the past couple years, maybe even before that. as you can see here. we tried last year and it didn't work out but this time around -- success! we made it! my dad, mom, daniel and i flew from san diego to new york city (i sang new york state of mind while waving to that beautiful skyline as we landed of course) and then on to heathrow. we left on a wednesday and arrived on thursday morning to stay until tuesday morning. we hopped on the tube and took the piccadilly line straight to our airbnb flat on the corner of shaftsbury and neal, in the center of covent garden. the location was amazing.

some of the highlights of our time in london: the above pictured walk from buckingham to trafalgar square, the national gallery, thames river cruise at sunset offered up picture-perfect scenes, neighborhood pubs, portobello road market in notting hill, tons of indian food, the british museum bible tour, the british library's treasures, drinking a glass of fancy champagne at harrods elaborate food hall, and saving the best for last -- beautiful london bethel and new friends made there.

from heathrow we rented a car, then daniel drove us to friends in the west midlands for the next chapter of our english journey... cheerio to london for now & hello bridgnorth!

beach camping (20th annual)
sunbathe / swim / play / cook / clean / sleep / repeat.
some of the best days of the year gone in a flash. lots of love to my camping family... until next time.1.20.14

idyllic retreat.
idyllwild, CA: its the place dreams are made of. that is, the place my dreams have been made of lately. due to the year dubbed by local meteorologists as "the year with no winter," i have been dreaming of cabins, fires, cardigans, baking and thick wooly socks. flip-flops in january is wrong on so many levels. i refuse. 

idyllwild is about an hour and a halfs drive from where we live in northern san diego county. i booked our little place for two nites on vrbo.com (vacation rental by owner) and it was beyond perfect. we felt like it belonged to us. it was homey, welcoming and so cozy. (feel free to email me for cabin details.) after we arrived on friday nite and settled in we went into town (which is walking distance) to the local pub for a pint. they were having karaoke nite so that was of course entertaining to say the least. ;)

saturday we slept until we woke up. i said that to my mom the other day and she laughed at me. but you know what i mean, right? we made a fire in the wood-burning stove and just relaxed. i read a book. an actual book. you know, the kind with lots of pages with ink on them? glorious. and very different for us. daniel and i usually take trips instead of vacations. go-go-go, see-see-see until you drop from utter exhaustion. and i love them. trips to see the world with daniel are my passion. cities full of energy and pavement pounding -- my absolute favorite. in fact, i love it so much that i almost forgot what its like to rest when we are away from home. honestly, i think i had forgotten how to rest, period.

saturdays late afternoon was filled with meandering thru town, gingerbread squirrel baking -- in honor of all the bushy-tailed grey squirrels that were scurrying around our porch, and word games because we are nerdy. sunday daniel made bacon and eggs for breakfast and checkout was at eleven-thirty. we were so sad to say "goodbye for now" to our peaceful  hideaway. we headed over to a nearby meadow we had heard of and spread out a blanket in the middle of the clearing. there was no one in sight as a symphony of birds chirped in the trees all around us. we had a picnic, i read and daniel napped. it felt like a make believe place, like it couldnt possibly be real. as i contemplated this feeling i lifted my head and staring back at me about fifty yards ahead was a coyote. im sure he was wondering what we were doing in his neck of the woods. after we left the meadow we went back to town for a bit and grabbed dinner before we headed home. the sunset on our way home was the most beautiful end to our little weekend. and we were home just in time for downton. seriously hooked. ;)

so looking forward to the next time, idyllwild.

i left my heart in new york city.
so here she is. after all of that planning, posting, planning, posting and repeat... here she is. NYC.
the big apple. the city that never sleeps. (and really-truly, i don't think this city ever sleeps. i am exhausted.) this being my fourth trip though, i felt like i knew what to expect. surely this time i wouldnt be surprised by anything right? boy was i wrong. 

although i knew i loved new york, i didn't expect to fall in love with it all over again, even more than ever before. there are so many memories tied up in this city, so much emotion. at the same time, there are future chances and opportunities in the air. that combination is enchanting to say the least.
("your mother was enchanting." "yes she was, how did you know that?!" i should mention there was a lot of you've got mail quoting as well).

we arrived wednesday nite, ate shake shack and explored. we had thursday on our own in midtown, central park + the lower east side. we went here, herehere, and here with tons of wandering in between which is what we do the best. ;) we ended up at a cute little pub where we chilled with a pint on a cozy couch and people watched. new york city has hands down the greatest people watching.

friday my best friend arrived early in the morning. we went to meet friends in brooklyn.
friday was most likely the best day. we saw old friends and met new friends. i heart brooklyn, by the way. for dinner we went to jack the horse in brooklyn heights. check it out next time youre in brooklyn -- the drinks and mac + cheese are delish. lastly, we were off to midtown manhattan for a view only a rooftop lounge had to offer. the moon shone thru the high rises. it was stunning. 

saturday we went into central park and stumbled upon a autumn festival where we grabbed hot cider and meandered thru the park snapping pictures of bright orange and yellow trees as the leaves blew off the limbs by the dozens... the stuff of my dreams. we found belvedere castle where daniel and i (and others... i was just so starry eyed i barely remember that part) went when we were eighteen and fifteen (respectively). we took our picture in the very same turret as we did 12 years ago. we also took our picture on a park bench imitating another picture from that same trip of years past. we were shoulder to shoulder (touching but not touching). awwww. ;)
from there we were off to the MET for a tour that was almost four hours long and was quite mind-blowing for lack of better words (i have notes in my journal -- you know, paper and pencil. if anyones interested). after the MET we found a quaint upper eastside pub for savory pies and a scotch selection unlikely to find outside of scotland.

sunday we headed up to the upper west side to hit zabars, riverside park and grays papaya (for the first time! seriously the best hot dogs around). find @hedghogchronicle on IG for our you've got mail snapshots (including kathleen kellys brownstone). we met up with friends in williamsburg for some shopping on the street and in the shops. williamsburg is the hipster area of brooklyn, super fun. then we grabbed thai at joya (perfect if youre looking for good food at normal people prices in the city). our friend took us up to the rooftop of his neighboring building for a breath-taking (literally breath-taking it was sooooo cold) view of the manhattan skyline and statue of liberty all lit up.

our last day was definitely the monday blues. we bought bagels and strolled thru the union street greenmarket for the morning. lunch was a shake shack again in madison square park nearby our hostel. we picked up our luggage and off to the e-train and JFK.

home again, home again. la-dee-da.
 but a note to the big city:
 you really do have my heart.

//dedicated to NYC//

beach camping (19th annual).

so turns out i was off on my counting, this was the 19th annual beach camping trip!
20 is next year and we can't wait.
here are some bits + pieces of this years goodbye to summer.

until next year...


my tuesday schedule this month and next are a bit more flexible than usual, hip hip hooray! and come september it tightens back up (arrgh). in the meantime, though, im taking full advantage of my tuesday freedom. ahhh freedom, how i love thee.

today i spent the afternoon with one of my best friends and her most adorable baby at their beautiful pool. we had chef salads, lounged on pool floaties and chatted endlessly.

happy tueday!
 hope all can squeeze in some pool time this week, its good for what ails ya. ;)

tuesday farmers market.

a few years back, i weekly went to the local farmers market. i wandered, explored and otherwise meandered picking out both needs and wants. of course, i prefer to get my produce from nearby farms. especially, i like to get fresh flowers each week for my apartment's wall vase. upon a tuesday schedule change, i got out of this habit that was not only practical but also oh so good for my psyche. lately, ive been making it a point to go when at all possible -- even if i don't have all that much time to wander, explore and otherwise meander ;)

here are this weeks fresh flowers:

where are your most loved markets?
locations, times + details are most welcome.

new york trip plans #2

ba-da-dada-da, ba-da-dada-da. start spreading the news...
(come on, you know the rest, sing it out for me loud + clear)
im leaving today...
(except not actually today, the end of october...)
i want to be a part of it...
(that's true!)
new york, new york!!

we booked our tickets and our room at the american dream hostel (how cool are we staying in a hostel??). however, it actually seems more like a b+b (so don't worry, mom!). we have a private room with a bunk bed, double on the bottom and single on the top for my best friend that's meeting us there for 3 of our 5 nites. we will have a shared bath which is totally fine because, frankly... it has to be.(note: finding a place to stay in manhattan with a private bathroom without paying a small fortune is absolutely impossible.) breakfast each day is included (i hear the pancakes are great! or maybe it was waffles... either way). the location is downtown, manhattan near the flatiron district with easy access to the subway.
it was quite the ordeal finding a place that suited our needs and was (relatively) in our price range so yippee skippee!! for that being done... now, onto the fun part: researching.

it being our fourth jaunt to the big apple, shall we have a fresh take? i want to see another side of this ever-changing powerhouse of a city, the city that never sleeps.

what are some unique nyc gems that are on your must-see list?

btw, this posts prequel is here.

find beauty and hold on.

though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
--ralph waldo emerson--

i read this quote today. then, i found this snapshot is of a foggy nearby big sur morning. pretty, huh?

 not many quotes really catch me but now and then i find one that makes me pause my ever constant movement to write it down somewhere, anywhere... with a dry eraser marker on the refrigerator, in a notebook, on a scrap piece of paper, or on this blog. this quote is how i feel about life.
so dear life, apparently me + ralph felt the same about you.
always knew i loved that guy.

to celebrate our eight year anniversary (officially may 7) we went with a few friends up to camp in big sur. on the way up we hit up super cool san luis obispo (or SLO as the locals call it) for breakfast and much-needed break.

we passed thru all kinds of cute beach towns on the loong drive up (8 hours to be exact). we saw lots of interesting sights though, to be sure. most of which were zebras belonging to the hearst property in san simeon. zebras! like the straight up african kind, right off highway 1! (i would post pics but i edited them on my camera and its not letting me upload them. lame.)

our site was on the river so not only did we hear the rush of the river as we slept (not very comfortably, mind you, therefore the river helped!!) but on thursday + friday (the warm days-- before the storm hit) we also used it as a cooler for our feet and most importantly, our beers ;)
this is pfeiffer beach state park, big sur.
its perfect.
this is our friends pup, belle. cutest pup ever.
we busted out the good stuff for boggle games under the tarp when it got cold, as in raining and verrry windy on saturday and sunday.
including stew on the fire. yumm. no complaining here.
sunday daniel + i warded off the rain by driving 20 minutes north to carmel to get some lunch and do some shopping. it is the lovliest town... but i forgot my camera. and there were beautiful views and rainbows. rainbows!! arrrgh. (i did get some phone pics at least. see IG.)
the whole gang (minus one) at nepenthe cafe on the bluff. amazing view!!
mcway falls, doesnt the water look like the caribbean?!
on the way home from big sur we stopped for an ice cream in avila beach, a tiny beach town where we spent our honeymoon 8 years ago. daniel says its changed. i say it hasnt changed a bit...

lastly we had dinner in santa barbara with daniels bro + fam. three hours later we were home. let me tell you, my bed never felt so good after sleeping on the floor for four nites. my head hit the pillow and i was down for the count.

when i awoke, it was may 7th! happy anniversary to meeee!! (oh, and daniel too) ;).
he had to work and i had to do much damage control on our apartment but we had thai takeout + wine for dinner and exchanged our cards.

what more can you ask for??

new york in the fall (trip plans #1).

its been 5 years since we have been to new york. 5 years exactly. no wonder im having trouble thinking of little else. not to mention, ive been watching a lot of friends reruns and have had "new york state of mind" in my head for days. this probably doesnt help matters much...

thankfully, my friend announced that she is serious about embarking on that new york trip we have been daydreaming of doing together for years. yipeeeee! she wants to go in fall and that deserves another huge yipeeeee! after all, joe fox once said: "dont you just love new york in the fall? it makes me want to buy school supplies." well joe, goodness knowa i certainly do. additionally, i too have a great affinity for newly sharpened pencils. and our fall here in southern california does not give one that urge to by school supplies whatsoever. it does not do fall justice as the blaze of summer swelter is only just on the wane. no nip in the air, no fall colors. so? off to see central park in all its glory for our fall fix.
so far the trip plans are daniel, me, my best friend and perhaps one more friend to round us off to four leaving over the first weekend of november. on the agenda: the MET, brooklyn for grimaldis, the shake shack, grays papaya hot dogs, serendipity, lots + lots more eating..... central park, upper west side, riverside park, 5th avenue, lots + lots of wandering.... more eating, chinatown (which involves more eating...) im sensing a trend...??
this post is called "new york in the fall (trip plans #1)" because as we make our arragements i will catalog them nicely + neatly on my blog for easy reference and to share with all of you and hopefully recieve ideas and feedback!! lets start, yes?
what are your most loved new york haunts?


foggy londontown.
the first time, i was only 17.

it was my first time across the atlantic. my parents let me go with my friend and her family. for them? it was a challenge to let their one and only fly thousands of miles away without them. for me? it was epic. i blame london for my voracious love of travel, a lifelong love. the cobblestone streets of london charmed me. the history, the museums, the pubs, even the taxis and phone booths convinced me that this city was a city with character beyond what even i could have imagined...

the next time, daniel and i were newlyweds, married 6 months.
we had a clock radio. the morning of our flight the alarm woke us with elton john: "rolling like thunder, under the covers. well i guess thats why they call it the blues." daniel jumped up, bouncing on the bed, while he sang along. that may have been the first time he ever saw what he now affectionately calls the "trip smile" (apparently its much different from my other smiles, reserved alone for embarking on an adventure).
this time, with daniel, london was different. i woke up, our first morning, in our cramped room (complete with shared bathrooms, no hot water, and outlets that-- despite my adapter-- set my paul mitchell flat iron a little bit on fire) to a memory i will never forget. daniel was still asleep. i woke up with thoughts of being in my own bed, upon the realisation that i was in fact in london, i lept out of bed (this is very significant as i never, ever, LEAP out of bed) and almost skipped (yes, skipped) to the window. just as i peeked out over the grey early morning cityscape, a pigeon glided into my view and landed on a nearby building. at that moment i knew, london was different.

obviously, london itself didnt change. it must have been me. i saw london as a kid, now i was here again. only a few years later but no longer a kid. daniel was with me. just the two of us, on our own out in the world. exploring, on an adventure, making memories... making a life.
we did all the touristy things to do: the british museum, national gallery, british library, london eye, harrods, tower of london and tower bridge. most importantly, he bought me my very first pint.
it was the first of many trips together to follow (ireland, scotland, jamaica, costa rica, china... to name a few) and many (many!!) yet to come.

one of which, is another trip to london (hopefully on the third time my parents will come with, they say the third times a charm). this time, i just want to soak it in. forego the tourist traps for checking out the local haunts. soak in that character. you know, pretend it really is my city. pretend to be a londoner... oh, to be a londoner.

someday, maybe someday.

home again, home again... booohoooo.
sailing in the middle of the sea is just what you need to unwind and get away from the grind. at sea days was lovely time to be with family and have quiet time to sunbathe, relax and reflect. on island days we didnt have much time so we were on the go exploring and adventuring (i dont know if thats a word but if not i think it should be!)

here are some of the highlights of our last ten days:

//sailing away from fort lauderdale, florida, usa//



//st. thomas//

a few more details about our trip yet to come...
hope all had a wonderful weekend and happy sunday!


thats me under that tree... can you see me? thats me splashing in those calm topaz waters... do you see me? i know, im not actually in the picture but im doing visualization exercises.

tomorrow nite daniel and i are on the red eye to florida to take a cruise thru the caribbean. oh ya baby. we are continuing the celebration of my grandparents 60th with my parents and my grandma on my dads side (who fabulously organized the cruise for us, thanks gram!)

we board then its 2 days at sea til we hit aruba (thats aruba in the pic above... you know, the one with me in it waving, "hi friends!") from there we do 5 more: bonaire (netherland antilles), grenada, dominica, st thomas + princess cays (bahamas).

im glad that we are 2 days at sea first so that my body can tell my brain that its time to rest, im on vacation, a real one. we usually take the kinds of trips that are adventures. GO GO GO til you collapse. which, i happen to love. but this kind of trip is welcome. welcome trip!! the kind of trip thats a vacation. where "relax" is my middle name. maybe i should go by that on the cruise?? ... maybe not. anyways, the point is, i will have time for family, time for daniel, and time for me. time to read a book!! this excites me greatly.

so bon voyage for now, heres to sailing the seas...


"adventure may hurt you but monotony will kill you."

i have a fear. irrational fear? could be. but its a fear nonetheless.

monotony: wearisome uniformity or lack of variety, as in occupation or scenery.

now, dont get me wrong, my life is not boring. its busy. i love my apartment, my job, my friends, my family. daniel and i are a great duo. we are a team and we love adventures. hes calm and im enthusiastic. hes laid back and im energetic. hes my roots and im his wings.

despite this i still worry. will i always live in california? i know that we have our trips... thats one of the things that gets me thru. i focus on our trips, past and present. but will we ever live anywhere else? i always say i want to move, but when it comes right down to it, could i leave my family? whats more important, new experience or being with those you love? experiences shape who you are, who you will be. but family makes life experiences have meaning.

i guess i dont really know the answer. im just throwing it out there into the universe. to quote youve got mail: im sending this cosmic question into the void.

goodnite, dear void ;)


our trip to portland was a collaborative effort...
friends who have been + our personal research merged and resulted in a rather lengthy to-do list. as we only had 2 full days, we tried our best to narrow our list down to the must-sees which included mothers bistro {as recommended by a friend: get the wild salmon hash. trust me. no regrets}, powells, eastside breweries {cascade specializes in sours that knock your socks off}, voodoo donuts {captain crunch donut was my fave} + the saturday street market. as we pitter-pattered around the city we added little gems we found along the way.
what personality portland has! it is urban + hipster... too cool for school, if you will. however, what makes portland special is that its coolness doesnt take away from its friendly, down-to-earth vibe. probably the friendliest city we have ever explored. so even though our adventure was short it definitely was sweet

here are some snippets...

decision: made
tickets: bought
hotel: booked

remember a few weeks back when i wrote we were planning a fall weekend away? well after many an internet search and much time spent in deliberation, we made a choice:
portland, oregon.
we have neither of us been to the pacific northwest and it is (drumroll please...) COLD! the weather in portland lately has been mid-50s and rainy. ahhh.
i like to start packing asap so here is the start...

we are flying spirit which charges for absolutley everything, but the tickets were cheap, so what are ya gonna do? i choose to view it as a challenge of my packing skills (which, believe it or not, are ah-mazing) and i will be only bringing one "personal item" for free... and maybe have to wear quite a few layers on the plane. hmm. but still... i defy daniel, even any boy! to one-up my packing skills.

the plan is to do all the touristy sites-- powells bookstore, lan su chinese garden, saturday street market, hawthorne street shopping, stumptown coffee roasters, voodoo doughnut, and of course the local craft breweries. we cant wait to get on that plane and soar off to our short, yet much needed + well awaited getaway. looking forward to sharing details... good thursday to all, tomorrow is friday!


yosemite... just saying the word awakens all of my senses. i can feel the crisp, cold air with just the right amount of nip. i can smell the pines. i can see the vast, endless, natural beauty. no cell phones, no technology, no cities, no people if you hike far enough... the below pic is from the fall before last which was my first and only time to yosemite. lately, i have been thinking, eating, breathing yosemite, for many reasons...
one is that i so very desparately want it to be fall. please let the 95 degree weather with humidity go bye bye... please oh pretty please. i cant wait to wear my fall clothes (see fashion + style) and usually around this time of year my family and friends start to tease me because i decide that i am mad and im going to wear tights, boots and sweaters whether its hot as death or not. just willing it to happen. maybe its my version of a rain dance... but, alas, it never works and i just end up turning bright red, sweating in an un-lady-like manner and needing to replenish my fluids.

another reason is because daniel + i havent been on our own anywhere since winter in china (see mandarin diaries) which really doesnt count either because we were visiting friends so we were only alone when we were on planes... or trains. and thats not really prime bonding time, is it? at home we are busy with life as all are so our private, much-needed "us" time tends to fall thru the cracks. hence, a weekend away is in order!

we are still in the discussion phase but we are hoping november and i am hoping yosemite. we shall see... what are your favorite cold weather, commune with nature, quick getaway destinations?


grimaldis, brooklyn

brooklyn bridge

cavallo point

on the golden gate

It's a toss-up between west and east coast for me... San Fran and New York. What is your favorite city in America?

Tuesday. March 20, 2012.



It must be all the gloomy weather the the past few days... It's making me nostalgic...

Mandarin Diaries.

I wish I could say that language has always been an interest of mine. It hasn't. In high school I took my foreign language course because it was a requirement. I even took a community college course because the credits were doubled when applied to my schooling, that way I could spend less time with ASL and more time with Austen and Bronte.

However, that was then... 10 years ago. Yikes. This is now and the tables have turned. I so wish I had turned them earlier.
That being said, attempting to become bilingual now is both a challenge and a joy. My husband and I have been studying Mandarin Chinese, slowly mind you, for 3 years. And I have absolutely, head over heels, fallen in love with Chinese. Why? Maybe because I want to learn. As opposed to high school, no one is forcing me. It's my own choice. We have lessons once a week and homework that I actually look forward to. I believe this is, in part, because Chinese is fascinating. The characters are pictures, full of meaning. The spoken language is tonal, like music. The very definition of a word is oftentimes within the word itself. For example: 重要 (Zhongyao) means important. "Zhong" means heavy and "Yao" means need. Thus, if something is important there is a heavy need for it. I love that, it makes sense. There are so many more examples that I can share in future Mandarin Diaries.

The beauty of Chinese is that it is the perfect blend of sense and poetry. It contains perfect harmony of logic and emotion. That is its charm. And it has certainly charmed me.

Yesterday we had our first class in 5 weeks, yay! Now it's back to the routine. It was a bit more of a struggle to converse in Chinese for an hour and a half after a few weeks off, but we made it through.
Our homework is to find family pictures and describe who everyone in the picture is, what they do for work, etc. For a basic example:
a: Zhe4zhang1 zhao4pian4 shi4 ni3de quan2 jia1 fu2 ma?
    Is this a family picture?
b: Shi4 de.
a: Zhe4wei4 shi4 shei2?
    Who is this?
b: Zhe4wei4 shi4 wo3 ba4ba
    That's my dad
a: Na4me, zhe4wei4 shi4 ni3 ma1ma ma?
    Oh, so this is your mom?
b: Shi4 de. Na4 shi4 wo3 ma1ma.
    Yep, That's my mom.
So we shall see how that goes...


We have had a break from our Chinese studies the past few weeks because our tutor has had family obligations to take care of and I have been realizing that I miss it!!

Today I wrote characters to practice up on my mirror board. There is a start...

Note to Self: You can study Chinese on your own. Find your motivation. Do it.


Here are some pictures of our China Adventures a couple months back. Practicing our Chinese and visiting friends were the highlights of our trip.

 "Above the Sea"

"Fresh Island"

The Great Wall of Qi
Qingdao Brewery

Monday. March 26, 2012.

We just finished our class for tonite and I am not exaggerating when I say my brain feels like it is exploding inside my head. The past couple of weeks our tutor has decided to mainly write in characters and then insert pinyin as needed (which is A LOT) only after she waits for us to try to figure it out on our own. Sink or swim. I have a feeling, though, that this will be the only way I will EVER learn characters as I am not very self-motivated in this area. The hour and a half just flew by as usual but now I am exhausted...

One interesting point of note to share for the evening is about the charater "wan3" which means night. "Wan3" is a combination of the characters "ri4" meaning day and "mian3" meaning do without. And, of course, night is when there is no more daylight. Pretty cool, huh?

Xia4ge xing1qi1 jian4!

Sunday. March 18, 2012.

My husband and I have been studying Chinese since November 2008, however we recently have been quite the slackers. We hoped actually going to China would be an inspiration... or a swift kick in the pants. It was both. Since our trip this past December we have been taking weekly Mandarin lessons. We met a friend there that teaches via Skype. So every Monday nite (her Tuesday morning) we have our lesson for an hour and a half. It's a pretty sweet deal actually, "attending" class in your pajamas.

Tomorrow is time for another lesson. Don't panic. Lately, each week seems shorter than the last... is it just me? I always think I am going to get my homework done within a few days... Maybe I should just give up on that line of thinking so as not to be a continual disappoint to myself. Come to think of it, I could be working on it now instead of blogging. Hmm...

This week we have a vocabulary test:

1. xiao1xi - message
2. shao3chi1 - small meal
3. bei3fang1 - north
    nan2 - south
    xi1 - west
    dong1 - east
4. xiao3chi1 - snack
5. rong2yi4 - easy
6. fei1ji1 - airplane
7. fa1sheng1 - happen
8. qiu1tian1 - fall
    chun1tian1 - spring
    xia4tian1 - summer
    dong1tian1 - winter
9. chou1yan1 - to smoke
10. can1jia1 - attend
11. ying1gai1 - should
12. guan1xin1 - to care
13. jiao1tong1 - transportation

Wednesday. February 9, 2012.

For anyone out there learning Chinese...
Especially those who love boy bands...


Tuesday, February 8, 2012.

I have made a discovery. In order to learn Chinese one must be immune to embarrassment...
It will happen. And often.
The other day during class, I was trying to explain to our tutor that my husband was getting over a cold. She speaks virtually no English, mind you, which of course is the eventual humor in this story... And many others come to think of it.
So she tells me that in China when someone has a cold, Chinese people say "drink water, drink water." I tell her that in America it is the same, but we also say drink orange juice. In Chinese "orange juice" is "chengzhi." Great. Only I said "chongzhi." "Chong" is worm... Worm juice. Seriously?!
Needless to say our tutor got a good laugh and I turned 5 shades of red. I exaggerate only slightly.
Until next time!


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